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Written by Abby Kohut   

On my Career Wake Up Call last week, I received an interesting question, which tends to come up every so often. That is, how revealing do you really have to be to an employer that barely knows you?

The question offered on my Career Wake Up Call was "I have been asked to provide my birth date and social security number to a potential employer for a background check before I received an offer of employment. Is this normal?" The answer depends on the employer.

Many large corporations and universities now have online applications. You may remember the days when you would sit in the waiting area where the receptionist watched over you silently as you nervously tried to decide what salary range to put down in the blanks. Nowadays, in many cases, the computer won't let you get past the first page without answering that question.

Now, let's get back to the question about giving companies personal information such as your birth date and social security number before you feel they deserve to know it. The answer is simple in my mind…ask if you can provide it later. In some cases, the answer will be a flat out no, especially when you are asking a computer screen, not a person. But if in fact you are filling out a paper application, ask the recruiter if you can save that information until the time that they actually need to have it.

The question though is when they truly need to have it. They typically need to have it when they run your background check but not typically before. However, some companies use your social security number to enter you into and track you as an applicant in their database, in which case they may not consider you an applicant without having that number. And some companies run your background check long before you receive an offer.

If a company does ask for this information, they typically include a statement on why they need it, and the statement usually confirms that they will not use it other than for that specific reason. In most cases, you can rely on that fact – most employers are honest and are not collecting the information for the wrong reasons.

Absolutely Abby’s Advice:
My advice on providing social security numbers, birthdates, references, and past salaries is simple. If it is required for you to be an applicant, and you actually want to be an applicant, do not argue with the recruiter or the computer, as it may be your downfall. Asking if you can provide the information down the road is always an option. Just be ready to happily concede if the answer is no.
 
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Drawn from my 18 years of experience and research in recruiting and Human Resources, my blog posts are intended to provide insight into what corporate recruiters and Human Resource professionals look for when they are evaluating your qualifications. Simply reading these blogs will not guarantee you success. However, consistently applying the strategies mentioned, as well as developing your own personal interview style, will greatly enhance your chances of victory amidst the competition. I wish you the best of luck with your search as you begin to take charge of your career!